What is a brand?

  • A brand can connect and resonate with people
  • A brand can help people identify who they are
  • A brand can help people feel part of a community

Within a few weeks of starting my latest full time role, I was set a challenge: establish an online brand for a new client, who currently has nothing but a name and a business idea. But building a brand online is a very different task from that of traditional brand building and I’m only just starting to understand why.

A brand, whether online or traditional, needs to be able to communicate a set of values and a personality as well as being able to engage and inspire. The initial journey is much the same as traditional brand building: design a logo, make the logo easily scalable, excellent in colour and monochrome and easily recognisable. But the logo is also important because it’s going to be included in your web design and this is where it will receive its first audience. The logo is the your mark, it is your ambassador. Apart from that, everything else is different and, at first, it feels oh so very wrong.

Before going any further, we conducted large amounts of research with both current and potential users. We immersed ourselves into their world: evaluating forums, asking first hand questions and stalking similar platforms and competitors to find our user base. Ultimately we wanted to be them, we needed to understand them, know their likes, dislikes and disappointments. Decisions on the brand could not be conducted without large amounts of knowledge on our users. This initial research allowed us to understand how the business objectives overlap with the needs of our customers and we were then able to create tools and services to fulfill those needs.

Next, we needed to establish the client’s position, personality and attributes, this was in order to remain consistent across channels. I began with a colour palette, choosing one that would withstand a plethora of screen resolutions and display qualities. Answering key questions on whether the colours that have been chosen:

  • were easily legible;
  • reinforced affordances;
  • met colour contrast requirements.

Then came typography. We are now fortunate enough to have access to an expansive collection of online fonts, so choosing a legible, web optimised font is not only vital but easier than ever. A backup font also needed considering for those unfortunate scenarios when the chosen font isn’t available, it is often the case in earlier browser models they can’t support certain typefaces.

On a personal level my biggest learning was understanding how brand consistency and flexibility actually go hand in hand. The ever increasing range of channels means design needs to be able to flex across all available devices, such as the various different sizes and models of desktop, tablet, laptop, mobile — need I say more? This means it is virtually impossible to create a rigid, prescriptive set of guidelines for a brand, therefore all interactive UI elements need to be considered. I have learnt to let go of the control that came with print and a fairly small set of screen sizes, and instead I try and think about creating UI systems where components work irrespective of their container.

As digital design forces me to reevaluate the traditional branding approach, I seize the opportunity to acquire new skills and enjoy being able to push both myself and what we know as a brand outside of comfort zones. I put to it to you though, next time you are thinking about creating a new brand or just refreshing an old one, where do you think is the best place to start?